Smart Watches and APIs: Expanding Opportunities

Harrys-Preferred-PictureThe following is a guest contributed post from Harry Wang, Director Research at Parks Associates.

Parks Associates consumer research reports 11% of U.S. broadband households with children have a smart watch, and 16% plan to buy one by mid-year 2016. Ten percent of Spanish broadband households own a smart watch, followed by 8% in the UK, 7% in Germany, and 6% in France.

The expansion of mobile device platforms to wearable form factors is creating many opportunities for developers to build services and applications for wearables in the smart watch space. APIs play a key role in developing these apps.

The smart watch’s easy access makes it a great mobile device to act as a remote control for smarthome features such as turning on lights remotely, closing garage doors, adjusting thermostat settings, and many more features. Some of the key challenges in implementing these features are the relatively low processing power of smart watches compared with smartphones. Additionally, the small size of the screen makes user interaction difficult for setting up complex scenarios and workflows.

Apple demonstrated in its March 2015 “Spring Forward” event how an Apple Watch could be used to remotely open a garage door. Since then, there have been more than two dozen smart home apps in the Apple Watch’s App store. In September 2015, Apple released the second version of its Watch OS, which gives app developers the ability to create native apps that can make better use of the Watch’s internal sensors and controls, hence a better user experience.

The Apple Watch API allows smart home app developers to improve features in the following areas:

  • Custom interface for local or remote notifications
  • Glance interface
  • Better control via access to the Digital Crown

As of September 2015, 18 smart home device makers and solution providers have created an Apple Watch app.

Parallel to efforts from third-party device makers and app developers, Apple has its own pathway to enable smart home experiences from the wrist—linking its HomeKit platform with its Watch OS. In theory, Apple HomeKit-certified smart home products should work seamlessly with the new Watch OS2. Additionally, Apple’s Home app—a dashboard view and control of various HomeKit-certified products—will find its way on the Apple Watch eventually.

Although HomeKit was announced almost two years ago, the reality is that only a handful HomeKit-certified products have come to the market. To Apple’s credit, it has a high standard for data security and user experience. To its discredit, the slow rollout of HomeKit has hurt Apple’s opportunity to lead the smart home industry.

Apple is not alone in trying to enable smart home control from wearables. Google’s Android Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen OS also have similar APIs for app developers to connect their apps or smarthome devices to a smart watch. However, Android Wear has experienced slower-than-expected adoption by smart watch OEMs, largely due to concerns about market demand and a wait-and-see attitude on whether Apple can crack open the smart watch market. Samsung has launched only onesmart watch product using Tizen OS. Low adoption and uncertainty regarding the long-term viability of these alternative wearable operating systems have suppressed smart home app developers’ near-term interest.

Outside of these OS-based initiatives to enable smart home experiences on or through wearables, individual wearable device OEMs can address unique use cases through one-on-one API integration with smart home products. For instance, Misfit, a manufacturer of fitness tracking devices, has announced a series of partnerships with various home automation apps like August, Nest, and others.

Parks Associates expects an expanding relationship between wearable device makers and successfulsmart home device makers, app developers, and platform providers down the road. In the short term, wearable OEMs are more eager to work with smart home players in order to build a smooth smarthome control and automation experience and drive their device’s sales. Players in the smart home industry can be selective in OEM partnerships at this early stage of growth for wearables. However,smart watches will top 100 million units in sales by 2019, and smart home players can’t afford to miss the opportunity of wearables as a significant smart home control choice by consumers.